“The Grascals and Friends: Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin” – Another Amazing Bluegrass Album from The Grascals
Looking for an excuse to visit Cracker Barrel Old Country Store? I know – you’re still doing a great job sticking to your New Year’s Resolution… so the biscuits and gravy are out… as well as the chicken n’ dumplins… and my old favorite – the Sunrise Sampler. OK, I’ll stop. Well, how about stopping by to pick up the new CD by The Grascals? They’re one of the best bluegrass bands around, and their new album, “The Grascals and Friends: Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin,” maintains their reputation.
These are thirteen country songs you’ve heard before – but not quite like this. Each song was a huge hit for another country music artist, but The Grascals have given us a chance to hear a contemporary country star sing each. They bring their unique bluegrass style to these country songs and let us rediscover their fundamental power. To buy the album, you’ve get to go there, or order it through the Cracker Barrel website by clicking here.The Grascals includes Terry Eldredge (guitar), Jamie Johnson (guitar), Terry Smith (bass), Danny Roberts (mandolin), Kristin Scott Benson (banjo), and Jeremy Abshire (fiddle). Their “friends” on this album include Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Dolly Parton, Tom T. Hall, Darryl Worley, Charlie Daniels, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Joe Nichols.
This week I broke down and went to the movies, where I sat through Country Strong, the weak, cliché-ridden Gwyneth Paltrow country music dirge of a film. As I watched it, I was amazed at how Hollywood could make something as vital as country music seem like such a drag. Between this film and the ballet-centered film Black Swan, it seems that Hollywood is running scared of the other entertainment options out there; trying to prove through its own medium that other (as in “live”) performing arts are a soppy, boring, bad time. If you want real 3D action, go to a Grascals concert and watch them create their holy, high lonesome, blues/jazz, rollicking, rural hymns in person. I defy Hollywood to make a movie incorporating bluegrass music that ends up a big drag. (The example that comes to mind is O Brother, Where Art Thou? I rest my case.) Bluegrass has a timeless energy and when you have a bluegrass “breakdown,” you’re probably having a helluva good time.
No one captures the essence of what makes bluegrass so fine better than The Grascals. Their sense of musical phrasing and improvisatory timing is matched only by their song choice’s humanity and humor. No wonder such an esteemed collection of country stars would want to be part of such a project; it’s a perfect opportunity to stretch the stylistic muscles… and any country star knows they’re in great hands when they’re backed by The Grascals.
The idea of bringing new life to these songs no doubt arrived from the success of The Grascals’ version of “Last Train To Clarksville.” I got a chance to interview bassist Terry Smith, where I asked him about that version of a song that might not seem, at first, made for bluegrass. The end product, however was an ear-opening stunner that opens up the possibilities for other bluegrass covers. Terry said, “ To me that worked well on our last CD, and I don’t think it sounded out of the ordinary at all. When we first ran over it, it just seemed to work for us.” And it did – with their trademark style. Imagine how many other songs The Grascals could reintroduce to the public if they wanted.
Terry Smith said that The Grascals said that there were risks involved in doing such an album: “You never know how something like this is going to turn out. I mean, it sounded good to us at the time we were putting it together, we thought it would turn out good, and we’re just tickled to death with the way it turned out. We hit a home run with it… It was a great experience. Most of the people that came in on the album – it only took one or two takes.”
When something is that easy – you just know it’s right. Do yourself a favor and buy this album without a single track that you want to skip past. This is what makes The Grascals The Grascals.
Tracks on The Grascals & Friends – Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin:
1. “Tiger By The Tail” (with Brad Paisley)
Originally made famous by Buck Owens, you’ll hear it anew as it fits Brad Paisley’s vocal flair perfectly. The upright bass sets this album off to a major toe-tapping start, and the madollin (and Paisley’s guitar) take it from there.
2. “Folsom Prison Blues” (with Dierks Bentley)
This had to be a dream come true for Dierks Bentley, who has made his love of bluegrass very clear lately. To get to turn this Johnny Cash classic into his own song must be the ultimate. Faithful to the grit of the original, it adds a rolling rhythmic banjo to the train… and a few sweet harmonies appear and disappear as steam from the engine.
3. “Pain of Lovin’ You” (with Dolly Parton)
Dolly has been part of The Grascals story for years, and she’s back for more. Her sweet voice is as pure as always, and when it blends beautifully with The Grascals, it reminds us that she is just as much bluegrass as she is country – a line she’s walked for years.
4. “I Am Strong” (with Dolly Parton)
The result of The Grascals’ work with “MACC,” (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer), this is a powerful ballad. The story: after visiting the children at St. Jude’s Hospital, they saw on the wall a bunch of letters that were written by the children saying how they felt. Some said “I am weak,” or “I am sick,” and then finally one said, “I am strong.” The song says it all.
5. “Louisiana Saturday Night”
This Mel McDaniel classic is pure pleasure, bound to make you sway and smile. What else could follow “I Am Strong”?
6. “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” (with Tom T. Hall)
Making an all-too rare appearance on this song is retired country legend Tom T. Hall, who narrates the story of Clayton Delaney. The song and the singer are both classics that sound better than ever.
7. “White Lightning” (with Darryl Worley)
The fiddle runs get a chance to steal the spotlight on this almost forgotten song written by J.P. Richardson (aka, “The Big Bopper”) that was George Jones’ first “number one” hit. Lead vocalist Terry Eldredge has his own special brand of fun with this track.
8. “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” (with Charlie Daniels)
Now it’s The Grascals’ chance to sing a song along with the guy that made it famous – Charlie Daniels, who delivers the expected guts and glory to the tune. The Grascals’ instrumentation, however, adds an unexpected layer of suspense to the song.
9. “Leavin’ Louisiana In Broad Daylight” (with The Oak Ridge Boys)
This song, one of the greatest “Oak Ridge Boys” tunes of all time gets a dust-off and a polishing. The blended harmonies of the Grascals and The Oak Ridge Boys makes this a little piece of bluegrass heaven. It is incredibly cool and scorching hot at the same time.
10. “Mr. Bojangles” (with Joe Nichols)
Finally Joe Nichols gets material that lets him show what a gifted star he really is. Joe Nichols has so much to offer audiences and The Grascals have framed his deliberate phrasing beautifully. Now maybe those audiences will help get Joe into the pantheon of today’s top country artists, where he deserves to be. Thank you Grascals for shining a light on this far too underappreciated singer. A tribute to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s place in bluegrass history, this version shows respect for the original by reminding us in our time how perfect their version still is.
11. Hank Williams Jr. Medley – “Born To Boogie / All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight”
The Grascals have toured with Hank Williams, Jr., and they show off what they learned at the party on this track.
12. “Cracker Barrel Swing” (Instrumental)
This pure instrumental track may be a breather from the guest vocals, but it’s no breather for the instrumentalists, who all get to show off. This a chance to appreciate what a finely produced album this is; each player sounds present, live, connected, organic and in top form. And it makes me want turnip greens for lunch.
13. “I Am Strong” (Bonus Track) Featuring guest appearances by Dolly Parton, The Oak Ridge Boys, Darryl Worley, Charlie Daniels, Terri Clark, Randy Owen, Steven Seagal, Tom T. Hall, Joe Nichols and Ansley McLaurin.
The Grascals bring the record to a close by teaming up with several of the artist who already recorded a song on this album, plus a few more (including Steven Seagal) on “I Am Strong” – one of the musical and emotional highlights of the album. A portion of the proceeds from album sales will go to St. Jude’s.